x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sehwag leads with his mouth

Virender Sehwag has not hit a boundary since May, but his flurry of strokes off the field has created more than just a buzz in India's capital and beyond.

Virender Sehwag has not hit a boundary since May, but his flurry of strokes off the field has created more than just a buzz in India's capital and beyond. Sehwag said that officials of his host association - the Delhi and District Cricket Association - were corrupt and threatened to play for another state. The association in turn accused Sehwag of wanting a relative to be included in the Delhi Ranji Trophy team. There can never be one side to a story, but Sehwag's bravado has to be commended.

In the modern world where other interests come before principles and voicing opinions, Sehwag stands out as the man who is never afraid to speak from his heart. There is not a player in the cash-heavy Indian Premier League who would say anything remotely uncomplimentary on record about cricket's latest money-spinner. Yet, Sehwag admitted that playing in the IPL was tougher than one-day international cricket because next day you were answerable to team owners, who, if the team lost, would want to hear explanations about how and why it happened.

I wonder what those team owners thought when they read that, but it demonstrates how hyper they can get over a sport and format where fortune is an important ingredient. Sehwag's views on India's former coach, Greg Chappell, is another example of his candidness. His problems with the Australian came into the open when he said that Chappell was quick to reveal his discussions with players to the media, which, he contended, created an environment of mistrust.

Back to the Delhi controversy. Sehwag's lashing out against the Delhi association led to a mini revolution that inspired several other players to speak their minds. Quite incredible, and that gives you a fair idea of what players go through with officials. Aakash Chopra, who played for India briefly in 2003-04, published a diary of a cricket season last year where he mentions how Delhi players were put up in sub-standard hotels on their domestic tours.

When the players urged their cricket bosses to shift them to another hotel, their request was turned down even though the players were willing to pay the difference themselves. Some hotels, said Chopra, lacked basic facilities. This may sound a trivial matter, but it also shows how in some countries, cricket can be appear rosy on the surface, but is, in fact, be soft, muddy and bitter below. The Sehwag issue is a reminder of the time when Mumbai cricket administrators were more interested in the commercial gains of the association and left cricketing matters unattended. I happened to be informed of the situation by a few senior players before asking Sachin Tendulkar to give his opinion on record. He did, and things changed, starting with the number and quality of balls players got for their practice sessions.

The other day, Tendulkar's view on allowing schoolchildren free admission free during Test match weekends was well reported in India. It is one great way of restoring the importance of Test cricket. "If administrators feel 'why-did-we-not-think-about-this', then so be it." The Indian great understands inspiration better than most because he was inspired first and then went on to inspire others. At 10, he was taken to the India versus West Indies Test match at Mumbai where Clive Lloyd's kings were up against Kapil Dev's ODI world champions in 1983-84. He went home with a greater appetite for the game.

I wish Tendulkar would speak on the issues afflicting the game more often. He could really make a difference. There should be no shortage of inspiration to do that. His mentor, Sunil Gavaskar, did it; so did the legendary Imran Khan, whose Pakistan side were India's opponents in Tendulkar's debut series in 1989-90. Cricket lovers will remember that series not only for Tendulkar's arrival, but also for the neutral umpires doing duty in that four-Test series ? the two Johns from England ? Holder and Hampshire. It happened only because Imran Khan pressed for neutral umpires in the game. Pakistan did not win that series but it was a victory for The General all right.

A few seasons before that, Imran got two Indian umpires (Piloo Reporter and VK Ramaswamy) to officiate in Pakistan's home series against the West Indies so that no one could complain of any bias. This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of that 1989-90 series, but world cricket has not seen too many Imran Khans. They had better emerge quickly because Test cricket is under threat, no matter what our administrators say. Tendulkar's suggestion will have a legacy only if it is implemented. Leaving an stand open for children for two prime days would hurt the coffers, but the future of the game would be in less jeopardy.

It should be pointed out, by the way, that this is not the first time that Test cricket has been threatened. Back in 1960-61, Australian cricket was not appealing enough either. Their summer game was marred by ridiculous over rates and chucking controversies. Sir Don Bradman, an administrator at the time, decided to do something. He met the team (with captain Richie Benaud's permission) before the first Test against the West Indies and told them that players who entertained would be looked upon in "kindly fashion" by the selectors. Without being suicidal, Benaud's team decided to entertain and so did Sir Frank Worrell's men. It changed Test cricket forever. Test cricket's first ever tie in Brisbane was just one element in that enthralling series.

Clayton Murzello is Group Sports Editor of Midday, an Indian newspaper cmurzello@thenational.ae